Monday, November 16, 2009

Out on the Town with Paul and Haul

I have lived in Vienna on and off for the past 2 years, but did not begin cycling until Spring 2009. When I did start cycling, it was at first on the outskirts along the Danube, and not in the city itself. Since having returned to the US this summer, I have become quite comfortable cycling on the roads in Boston. And now that I was going back to Austria, I was curious how I would feel riding around Vienna. Luckily, Anna from Cycling Is Good for You was happy to help me find out.

This is Anna locking up her bike in front of Citybiker, the shop where we met up. I first met her earlier this year, when I was living in Vienna on a more long-term basis. She looked fetching in her red polka-dotted knee-socks at the Vienna Naked Bike Ride, and we had since gone out for dinner and kept in touch over email. We planned this ride with a two-fold purpose: For her to test a Retrovelo, and for me to try cycling around Vienna under her more experienced wing. Originally, the plan was for both of us to ride Retrovelos, but the frame size they had was slightly too large for me. So she took a Retrovelo Paul and I took the most interesting bicycle they had in my size - the Specialized Globe Haul. And there you have it: Paul and Haul were going out for a ride.

Here is Anna heroically carrying Paul up the steps of the courtyard where the bike shop is located. I did that too, but my Haul was lighter - so not quite as heroic.

Our fist destination was a small park near the Parliament, where we shamelessly took silly photos of each other and the bikes. This is Anna with Paul.

And here is me with Haul. I look ridiculously happy, because I am finally cycling!

After a short adventure at the Parliament, we finally set off for real. In layout, the city of Vienna somewhat resembles a flower: The first district is the center, with districts 2-9 arranged around it like flower petals, and the other districts arranged around those. There is a street - the Ringstrasse - that runs continuously around the circumference of the 1st District, and another street - the Guertel - that runs continuously around the wider circumference of the "petals". Both of these circular streets have bike paths that are separated from motorised traffic, making them convenient starting points for getting to any other district of Vienna.

There are also segregated bike paths along the entire length of the Danube Canal and the Danube River itself, forming additional "bike highway" systems that are convenient for many destinations.

Both Anna and I have mixed feelings about the segregated paths. On the one hand, they are safe from motorized traffic - even the intersections and crossings are well-organised, so that it's clear to cyclists and motorists when it's whose turn. My experience in this regard was good. But on the other hand, one is forced to cycle on these paths very slowly, because pedestrians meander onto them without looking. Slow cycling of this sort is enjoyable when sightseeing or going for a nice ride with a friend - but I imagine not so much when you need to actually get to work or to a meeting on time. And since it is mandatory to use the paths when they are present (as opposed to being able to choose between the paths and vehicular cycling), there is no other option for those following these routes.

Our trip around Vienna was fairly well-rounded in terms of what kind of cycling we did. We began nice and slow along the tame paths around the central Ringstrasse and the Danube Canal, transitioned to bike lanes as we ventured further out, and finally transitioned to cycling on larger roads with motorised vehicles.

Here is Anna in front of some wonderful graffiti along the Danube canal. She and Paul made quite a splendid pair!

For reasons of safety, we did not take photos of us cycling on the road with cars - but I will describe that experience as "absolutely fine". I felt very comfortable following Anna, as she gave clear signals that made it easy for me to understand what she was about to do. The cars behaved differently than they do in Boston, but it's hard to describe exactly how. They seemed less freaked out by the fact that we were there, for one thing. But I wouldn't say that they gave us more room than Boston drivers do or slowed down more when passing us. It was equivalent. My only concern about cycling in Vienna, is that both bike paths and bike lanes are mandatory. With the bike lanes this can be especially problematic, because they are sometimes in the door-zone - and when this is the case, the cyclist is not legally allowed to move further out into the road. I wonder how cyclists handle this issue here. In Boston I never cycle in the door zone, and it made me nervous to do so here.

After almost 2 hours out and about, Paul and Haul returned to their stables at Citybiker. They seemed to have had as good of a time as we did. Anna is now seriously considering a Retrovelo, and I wish her the best of luck in her decision! I took lots of detailed shots of both the Retrovelo Paul and the Specialized Globe Haul, and will post my thoughts on them later. Thank you, Anna, for a great day!

25 comments:

  1. You are doing so well for having taken up cycling only as of last spring! Literally it's been just a matter of months! My, your passion and how quickly you've subsequently become a respectable voice as an expert is a testimony in and of itself. I am sincerely impressed :D

    Nice Vienna riding reportage story too.

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  2. Aw that is so kind of you, RidingPretty!
    But you know, I was fascinated by your post earlier pointing to some early mentions of a group of blogs that seemed interesting just over a year ago: Some of them are even more interesting now; others are abandoned; and others are gone altogether. Wonder where I will be a year from now.

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  3. This looks like so much fun! I'm looking forward to hearing about the Globe Haul - gearing, skirtable, etc.?

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  4. oh, looks like so much fun! and your bike is to-die-for gorgeous!

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  5. Like RidingPretty, I'm really impressed with your rapid knowledge accumulation and ability to distil it into a great blog. Also your confidence in riding in city traffic (I suspect Boston and Vienna are better than my Sydney for cyclists).

    Vienna looks like a fantastic city to cycle around and I really enjoyed reading your impressions of it. I can understand your mixed feelings about the bike paths and the wandering tendencies of pedestrians though.

    I'm intrigued by the 'door zone'... is that a region of the path where you intersect with the road to turn left or right?

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  6. You make me want to get on the next flight to Vienna. On the other hand, I would have the same concerns you've had about the bike lanes. One problem you described--paths in car-door lanes--is what destroyed the first system of bike paths New York City had, back around 1980. Cyclists didn't use them for the very reason you cited, and then-Mayor Ed Koch bashed the "ingrate" cyclists as he removed bike lane signs in a photo-op.

    Riding Pretty is right: You have learned a lot. That, in part, is what makes reading your blog so interesting.

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  7. That green looks fabulous on Haul. Usually I favor the darker greens like British Racing Green.

    If the Vienna drivers are like my daughter, they've gotten to the stage where they just get on with passing the cyclist in a businesslike manner like they deal with other aspects of traffic. You learn to handle that which you regularly encounter.

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  8. I'm humbled to know we began cycling at the same time... you know so much more than I do! Much of what I have learned has come from your blog and the others you've pointed me toward, so thank you!

    The Haul looks easier to ride than I imagined from looking at Specialized's website some weeks ago. Seems to be a credible choice as a city bike, no?

    mikespokes.blogspot.com

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  9. My only overseas cycling experience was in Cork, Ireland back in 2000 when I spent the Summer there between semesters (the opposite of what most of the Irish students did, lol) and that was a harrowing experience to say the least!! I am not sure if much has changed since then but there was little or no infrastructure for cycling at the time. That coupled with narrow Irish roads made my cycling ventures few and far between ... but I did go out a few times.

    I am glad you have had a chance to get out and ride; I always feel like something is missing if I go a few days/weeks without getting on the bike (really... any bike); and your pictorial is "lovely"! I can only hope that the graffiti artists in the Metro-Boston area can aspire to that level of quality.

    Safe travels!

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  10. May I inquire what it is you do that requires you to live on and off in schoene wien for two years? ...one of my favorite cities in the die ganze welt.

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  11. I'm surprised how nice looking the Haul is!
    I hear "Specialized" and almost immediately tune out, but the mixtie-ish lines are quite nice, the green is a pretty color and it comes with rack and fenders (although no light). How does its handling compare to a more pedigreed city bike like the Pashley?

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  12. Cool pictures. The Haul is an attractive bike and I've long loved the Retrovelo.

    The Vienna bike path laws give me a lot to think about. If the government is going to mandate use of bike paths, they need to enforce rules to make pedestrians respect the paths. For the bike lanes I wonder if there's anything in the law that allows cyclists to use them only when practicable. I would not consider riding in the door zone practicable. Otherwise, it sounds like a lovely place to ride. About drivers passing just as closely, I read somewhere that drivers in Holland pass cyclists very closely because they're used to riding around cyclists and cyclists are so experienced that they won't swerve.

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  13. Emma - I was wearing a very long wool coat and a dress underneath - so def. skirtable.

    Carinthia - Being in the door zone is when you cycle close enough to the parked cars, so that the door will hit you if opened. Often people getting out of cars do not look before opening doors, and many cycling crashes happen this way.

    Cycler - The bike does have lights, they are cleverly hidden in the design.

    More on the Globe later - I will post a separate review of it soon, with close-up shots.

    Re the mandatory paths & bike lanes: Frankly, I am feeling a bit battered by the borderline-abusive comments (which I have since deleted) that were posted when I dared to critise the bike share in a previous post. So for the sake of my nerves, I will leave the lane issue alone for now.

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  14. Hey, what's the temperature there at the moment?
    It looks a bit grey? Seoul is bright blue and freezing cold...down to 0 degrees celcius. But I've managed to only miss one day riding so far. My new woolen coat with long sleeves is doing the business so far. If I can make it until Christmas or the first big snowfall I'll be pleasantly surprised.

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  15. It's been overcast like this almost every single day that I've been here. Temps are in the 40s F. I don't mind the cold and would love some snow, but the lack of sun does begin to get to me after a while. Snow and sun would be a nice combination.

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  16. add me to the impressed by your time on the wheels and your knowledge and ease!!! I still have no clue what I'm talking about RE bikes.

    I just wanted to say I love your really happy face. Here and at the ANT open house. It makes me happy too.

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  17. Astroluc: I've cycled extensively in France, Italy, Switzerland and Belgium, and have ridden to a lesser degree in England, Germany, the Netherlands and Spain. All of them have significantly better infrastructure for cyclists than the US does. In all of those countries, I noticed that drivers do tend to ride and turn close to cyclists. Once I got used to it, I actually felt safer than I did in the States. As you Dottie pointed out, Europeans are more accustomed to cyclists on their roads. Plus, they drive on narrower roads than their American counterparts.

    Then again, some of the worst experiences I've had with motorists in the US came on relatively wide roads in suburban areas. I guess they're not so accustomed to cyclists as urban drivers.

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  18. I love you profile of Vienna, it's been over 20 years since I was there. What a charming city, it's easy to fall in love with it.

    Marc

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  19. "So for the sake of my nerves, I will leave the lane issue alone for now."
    OK, but don't you think it logical that if bike lanes/paths are provided, so with the express purpose to separate traffic flows, they should be used as intended? Nobody expects to have pedestrians wander about on a road when there is a sidewalk available for them. Ditto for cyclists. A simple Dutch example: all cycle paths and lanes are compulsory for cyclists, in turn all roads with cycle paths or lanes adjacent or nearby are off-limits to cyclists. They are all signposted accordingly. Every summer the police have to deal with suicidal tourists who happily pedal along on the wide hard shoulders on main roads. And as for the dooring matter, drivers should learn to look, and cyclists are subject to the same rule that applies to all participants - adjust speed to stopping distance. Opening doors are just as unexpected as a child popping out from between parked cars.

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  20. Frits - This is such a complicted issue. As you know, it is not a unique or unusual belief on my part that cycling in the door zone is dangerous, and so I hope you understand if I do not have the energy to defend that viewpoint from ground zero.

    I will add that perhaps there are cultural differences involved. In the US, the chances of a child popping out onto a busy road are very, very slim; this just does not happen. However, the chances of "dooring" are very high and this happens all the time. At the speed that cyclists ride on American roads, there is no time to stop if a door suddenly opens. I do not know how it is in Holland: perhaps cyclists go very slowly and the people getting out of cars are more attentive. In Vienna cyclists do not ride any slower than in Boston; they ride quite fast past the doors of the parked cars.

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  21. Filigree - I live on a main road leading into, and out of, the town center. It's rather narrow, however, and in front of my building consists of a cycle lane, two car lanes and another cycle lane. Last week a woman rode in the cycle lane and suddenly swerved to the left into the car lane; not sure whether she wanted to cross or just tried to avoid an obstacle. If she wanted to cross she should have looked first; if there was an obstacle she should have slowed down and then look where she could go. She is dead now as one cannot win against a truck. I myself have also killed a boy on a bike that way, a long time ago. Bike lanes are not just for the convenience of cyclists, they keep them out of the way of stronger and faster competitors for road space. I was never even held responsible, and I presume neither will the truck driver be.

    Wasn't there a police series long ago that started each episode with a roll call and the warning "Be careful now, it's a jungle out there"? Traffic is like that.

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  22. cool bikes... and lovely ladies. what a nice photo tour of vienna too, i had the blue danube waltz playing in my head the whole time. thank you!

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  23. Frits -Your descriptions of cyclists being hit by cars do not seem to contradict anything I wrote so far, but maybe I am misinterpreting. Of course cyclists must always look before merging and must always slow down for obstacles instead of swerving. But the question is, is it possible to slow down in time? I cannot speak for others, but speaking for myself: The speed at which I would need to cycle in order to successfully stop in time when I notice a car door swinging open, would have to be just barely above walking speed. In which case, why cycle at all? I might as well walk. Therefore, I do not think that cycle lanes in the door zone are safe.

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  24. Interesting post about the Specialized Globe Haul. I just bought a Specialized Globe and love it...it's off-white with light yellow tires (which I have developed quite a fondness for) and I switched out the brown grips and saddle for black ones. I call it The Bee. (Yellow, white and black...bumblebee...) Did you rent the bike or offer to do a review on it in exchange for free riding?

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  25. i lived in vienna for some years too, but never biked a lot there - it's fun to see you cykling around a place i know!

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